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Final Loose Threads on the Zealot Hypothesis

I think I’ve gone on about Aslan’s Zealot long enough. Maybe more than long enough, many of you may think. My plan is to make this the last post. Let me reiterate that I think it is an exceptionally well-written, engaging book, and we can all be thankful to Aslan for bringing important historical issues about Jesus to the public attention. I may think that he’s wrong about his central thesis, and I may recognize a lot of errors in his book (about history, about the NT, about early Christianity). But I appreciate very much that he has gotten people talking about Jesus from a historical perspective – something that I think is of utmost importance, especially in our American context where Jesus typically is only spoken of by believers who do not appreciate the importance of history for knowing, well, about the past! In this final post I want to speak about a couple of threads, loose traditions that are sometimes used to argue that Jesus was most likely a zealot, someone who was [...]

2020-04-03T17:36:17-04:00January 8th, 2014|Book Discussions, Historical Jesus|

The Later De-apocalypticizing of Jesus

Yesterday I started mounting the case that rather than being a zealot interested in a military overthrow of the Romans to reclaim the land for God, Jesus was an apocalypticist who believed that God himself would intervene in history to destroy the forces of evil (presumably including the Romans; and certainly including the Jews who were not “on the right side”) to set up his kingdom. It is worth re-emphasizing that all over the map in our early sources Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God. He does not speak about the Kingdom of Israel, or about the use of military force (I’ll get to the scattered exceptions eventually), or about “retaking the land.” This is a key point because Aslan thinks that for Jesus it was all about getting rid of the Romans and taking the land back; but Jesus doesn’t talk about that in our earliest sources – even the ones that Aslan cites (as I showed in earlier posts: unlike zealots, Jesus told his followers that they *should* pay taxes to Rome!). [...]

2020-04-03T17:37:02-04:00December 29th, 2013|Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Fundamental Problems with Aslan’s Thesis

In my post of yesterday I moved beyond the simple errors of Aslan’s Zealot to discuss more substantive issues, taking his chapter “Zeal for your House” as both central to his argument (as he himself maintains) and highly problematic. Within the seven pages of this key chapter, I indicated that there are, by my count, six major problems, two of which I dealt with yesterday and the other four I will deal with here. Not only are some of the “historical” events that Aslan describes in this chapter almost certainly not historical, at least as they are narrated, both in the NT Gospels and in Aslan’s summary (e.g., the Triumphal Entry and Jesus’ success in shutting down the entire Temple complex; this is my first problem); and not only does Aslan fill in the gaps of our knowledge with fictional narratives that he himself has made up (this is my second), there are the following four problems, that here I deal with seriatim:   His reconstruction of events is riddled with internal inconsistencies that show [...]

2020-04-03T17:37:26-04:00December 23rd, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Aslan’s Key Chapter

After his 70-page introduction to the history of first-century Palestine, which I enjoyed, even if it was skewed to set up his thesis of Jesus as another-one-of-those-zealots, Aslan sets the stage for his entire discussion of the historical Jesus, in Part II, with his Prologue, “Zeal for your House.” Aslan sees the set of stories relates in this chapter as paradigmatic for understanding Jesus’ message and mission. As he says, this story, “more than any other word or deed, helps reveal who Jesus was and what Jesus meant…. So revelatory is this single moment in Jesus’s brief life that it alone can be used to clarify his mission, his theology, his politics, his relationship to the Jewish authorities, his relationship to Judaism in general, and his attitude toward the Roman occupation” (p. 73). Wow. That’s a lot. The story he chooses is actually a collection of stories having to do with Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem: these stories include (a) The Triumphal Entry; (b) The Cleansing of the Temple; and (c) the Question about Paying [...]

2020-04-03T17:37:35-04:00December 22nd, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Aslan Zealot: A Deeper Evaluation of the Thesis Itself

  I have not completed my evaluation of Reza Aslan’s popular, interesting, and well-written account of Jesus, Zealot.   To this point I have merely tried to show that despite his claims (e.g. in the Fox News interview) of being an expert who is qualified to write such a book, he is not an expert – in the ancient world, in the New Testament, in the Gospels, or in the historical Jesus.   When I began this discussion I understand that a lot of readers thought that I was just being snooty and dismissive by pointing this out;  but in my subsequent posts I’ve tried to show why being an expert really does matter.  Someone who is not an expert makes mistakes – lots of mistakes, and often serious mistakes.  And the problem is that the person doesn’t even know it.  I don’t think Aslan knowingly wrote anything he didn’t think.  The problem is that he doesn’t know the field well enough to know where there are gaps in his knowledge, or where he has accepted incorrect [...]

2013-12-21T17:18:45-05:00December 21st, 2013|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Mistakes about the New Testament in Aslan’s Zealot

In my previous two posts I detailed some of the historical errors in Aslan’s interesting and readable book Zealot. In this post I’ll say some things about mistakes he makes about the New Testament. I’m not sure which kind of mistake is more troubling – the book is dealing both with ancient history and with the accounts of Jesus in the NT, so both history and the Gospels are of central importance. In any event, here is a sampling of the latter. ************************************************************************* Aslan indicates that Mark is uninterested in both Jesus’ birth and “surprisingly, in Jesus’s resurrection as he writes nothing at all about either event” (p. 29). Of course it is true that Mark begins with Jesus’ adult life and says nothing about his birth. But it’s absolutely wrong to say that he says nothing about the resurrection. Quite the contrary, one need only read Mark 16:1-8 and it becomes clear that Mark both knows about the resurrection and considers it to be of utmost importance. In the narrative, Jesus is dead and [...]

2020-04-03T17:38:37-04:00December 19th, 2013|Historical Jesus|

More Historical Mistakes in Aslan’s Zealot

In this post I would like to continue with some of the historical mistakes in Aslan’s Zealot. When reading these, do bear in mind that I also had positive things to say about the book. As in the previous post, I would like this one to focus on historical errors, or historical claims that have no basis in either our ancient sources or modern scholarship. I will not be discussing, in this post, the mistakes Aslan has made about the New Testament. That will be my next post. ************************************************************************ Aslan wants to argue that John the Baptist may have been an Essene ( I think there’s no way that’s true, but the idea has been floated ever since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls; still, John’s baptism for remission of sins is completely different from what was going on among the Essenes, who believed in lengthy periods of ritual purification, not a one-time baptism in view of “repentance.” But thinking he was an Essene is not a flat-out mistake; it’s just a historical hypothesis. [...]

2020-04-03T17:38:46-04:00December 17th, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Aslan’s Zealot: Historical Mistakes

Yesterday I pointed out some of the features of Reza Aslan’s Zealot that I found to be commendable. In the next series of posts, starting with today’s, I’ll be pointing out the problems. There are lots of them. Some readers of the blog have objected to my (repeatedly, I’ll grant) pointing out that Aslan is not an expert. Now I’ll try to show why that is both obvious and unfortunate. There are mistakes scattered throughout the book. I’d say 1/3 to 1/2 of the pages in my copy have bright yellow large question marks on them, where (when highlighting) I found factual errors, misstatements, dubious claims, inconsistencies of logic, and so on. I obviously am not going to provide a full list here. In today’s post I’ll begin by mentioning some of the raw, factual mistakes. These are only from his Part I; I’ll probably provide some more in a subsequent post, from other Parts of the book in order to round out the picture a bit (There are other kinds of problems I’ll note [...]

2020-04-03T17:38:54-04:00December 15th, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Aslan’s Zealot: Some Positive Comments

I begin my assessment of Reza Aslan’s Zealot by saying a few things about what I appreciate about the book. In subsequent posts I will talk about the mistakes that pervade it, and about my view of the overarching thesis that Jesus was principally a zealot in favor of a violent insurrection against the Romans. But first, the positives. As everyone has said, over and over again, the book is extremely well written. It reads more like a novel than a historical reconstruction – it flows very well on the sentence level, it tells a gripping narrative in a gripping fashion, and I appreciate very much the narrative structure of the book. Aslan is an expert in creative writing – it’s his day job – and unlike others who teach a subject (such as writing) but cannot do it, he himself has the gift. I appreciate very much the historical focus of the book. This is its outstanding quality. More than most non-experts who try to write a book about Jesus, Aslan is intent and [...]

2020-04-03T17:39:04-04:00December 14th, 2013|Historical Jesus|

About the Blog and Two Clarifications about Reza Aslan’s Zealot

  Yesterday I resumed my posts on Reza Aslan’s best-selling hit Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and plan to have several more posts on it, as I explain what I like about the book and about what problems I see in it.  But I need to take care of a couple of other concerns first, before launching into a direct discussion. The first has to do with this blog.   A number of people on my facebook page have expressed frustration that the only way to get my comments is to join the blog, which costs money.   I completely understand the complaint, but need to explain why I am doing things this way (apologies for old-timers for whom this is old-news). I do this blog for a lot of reasons, but by far and away the most important and pressing is to raise money for charity.  That is the raison-d’être of the entire enterprise.  If this endeavor was not making significant money to help the hungry and the homelessness, I simply wouldn’t [...]

2013-12-13T21:44:07-05:00December 13th, 2013|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

Aslan’s Zealot: To Start With…

I have promised for some time to make some comments on Reza Aslan’s bestselling reconstruction of the historical Jesus: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. And now the time is come. As I’ve indicated in my earlier posts, I had my first-year students in my seminar “Jesus in Scholarship and Film” read the book and make an evaluation of it. Most of the students thought very highly of it. In particular they thought it was unusually well written and that it made an interesting case for its thesis that Jesus was a politically motivated zealot who believed in the violent overthrow of the Roman empire, or at least believed that the Romans should be driven out of the Promised Land, as did so many others in his time and place. (Aslan does not argue that Jesus was a member of the Zealot party; he realizes that this party did not arise until after Jesus’ death.) I have already made a couple of comments about the book that I felt safe in saying [...]

2020-06-04T16:23:12-04:00December 13th, 2013|Historical Jesus|

Reza Aslan’s View of Jesus

I am saddened and grieved to report that everyone on the blog who has responded to me about yesterday’s pop quiz has gotten one of the questions wrong.  :-)   More on that tomorrow.  (But in the meantime: I’m giving brownie points for anyone who can indicate which question everyone is missing and why they’re getting it wrong!) But on rather more serious matters: back to Reza Aslan’s book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.   Let me state emphatically that I have not yet and am not now writing a review of the book.   I’m not attacking its views or its scholarship, I’m not praising its brilliant insights and clear vision, and I’m not recommending that you read it or, instead, use it as a very handy doorstop.  I HAVEN’T READ IT!   And unlike some people I know (oh so well), I don’t believe in passing judgment on a book I haven’t read. My first post on the book was in response to a question of whether I consider to Aslan to [...]

Reza Aslan on Jesus

QUESTION: Do you consider Reza Aslan to be a recognised scholar of early Christianity? Larry Hurtado described the thesis circulating in lay circles, that Jesus was a military revolutionary, as a "zombie" idea (from what I gather, a key conclusion of Aslan's 2013 book) which had been debunked over and over again by scholarship in the past century. RESPONSE: OK, I need to begin with a very serious disclaimer.   I haven’t read Aslan’s book (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth) yet.   So what I say will not be based on careful observation of his views or the evidence that he cites to support them.  My comments will not require any of that, as you’ll see. His publisher sent me a copy gratis, for which I’m very grateful.  He sent it to me before he knew that it was going to be the #1 Bestseller in nonfiction on the New York Times Bestseller list – which it is still this week, I see in this morning’s paper – and when he was interested [...]

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